Recommending that a new criminal offence of possessing articles with intent to convert an imitation firearm into a live firearm be created was the most stupid part of the Law Commission’s recent review of gun law.
Condemning the current law (section 1(6), Firearms Act 1982) as “anachronistic”, the LC said: “By focusing on whether the necessary tools are in common use when carrying out maintenance in the home, the provision does not take sufficient account of the range of tools and equipment that can now be readily purchased on the Internet and used to convert imitation firearms into live firearms.”
This odd assertion seems to originate from police lobbyists, who have repeatedly made unsubstantiated claims about reactivated de-acs and the like.
The Gun Trade Association (GTA) strongly supports the proposal to criminalise shooters* with home workshops, to the point where they were approvingly quoted by the LC. “The 1982 Act talks about ‘special skills on the part of the person’. This again is almost impossible to define with readily available instructions both on the internet and in printed form.”
“The reaction to this provisional proposal from the licensed firearms community
was overwhelmingly negative,” said the LC, acknowledging that sensible ordinary people were horrified by their proposal to turn most of them into criminals. BASC, the CA and the NRA all said the proposal should focus on the intent rather than the mere possession of tools, but this wasn’t good enough for the LC.
“The prosecution would still have to prove that the imitation firearm could be converted without the use of special skill,” they insisted. In response to the NRA’s point that their proposed criminal offence would criminalise everyone in possession of tools and a book gunsmithing, the LC said: “This is not, however, the way the provision is designed to work.” Yet this is the line of thinking used by lawyers who think the application of laws begin and end in the courtroom.
Police forces have many powers to disrupt lives, destroy businesses and create black marks that can be held against a person forever before any charge is brought, provided they can cite a law – any law – to justify using these powers. Allowing police to break and enter, take property and force an innocent person to spend five figures or more to prove his innocence in court, solely because he owned a number of lawful items, is an alien concept in Britain.
Enforcement of firearms law is a police matter, and handing such powers to the police without any oversight – the same police who demanded the power to burst into law-abiding shooters’ homes without any suspicion of wrongdoing – would further degrade the right of the law-abiding shooter to live his life peacefully and without interference from the State.
Police forces have a long and inglorious history of going on fishing expeditions when they think the courts’ backs are turned. If they suspect a person is breaking the law, there are many ways in which they can lawfully get a warrant after showing their suspicions to a magistrate – who, don’t forget, is an ordinary person with no specialist legal training. That independent safeguard is a powerful one. We must not allow the Law Commission to toss it aside as a result of self-interested police lobbying.
* The GTA also seemed to suggest that anyone in possession of an old blank firing gun bought before the non convertible provisions were brought into law should be criminalised retrospectively, saying that section 39 of the Violent Crime Reduction Act wasn’t comprehensive enough.
It’s surprising to learn, by reading the LC report, that the GTA seems to be generally demanding new bans and restrictions. It’s not clear why they take this position and this knowledge will come as a surprise to the majority of the licensed firearms community. Not that it will make any practical difference; the vast majority of RFDs are GTA members and it is not as if any movement to boycott GTA-affiliated traders, in order to change the GTA’s attitudes, is practical or likely to receive any public support.
Although Home Secretary Theresa May nominally commissioned the review, in reality lobbying from the Met Police and the National Ballistics Intelligence Service was what brought it onto the table. Both police organisations set out with the aim of targeting lawful firearms owners and ownership.